J.S. Giguere helps Maple Leafs win their first home opener since 2000 against Canadiens

Note: We probably won’t recap regular season games individually very often, but this is Hockey Christmas so I thought I’d touch on the two early games separately. Expect a recap post for the 10:00 PM ET games tomorrow morning, though.

gigueregame1.jpgWhile a lot of the pressure is on Carey Price in Montreal, the 2010-11 season is a huge one for a nearly forgotten goalie by the name of J.S. Giguere. Things have been rocky for the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner ever since he raised the silver chalice, but if he ever needed motivation to rekindle his old magic, how about a contract year?

So far, so good, as Jiggy’s strong goatending powered the Maple Leafs to their first win in a home opener since 2000.

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

Carey Price struggled a bit to begin the game, at least on paper, allowing two in the first period. (I say he struggled because any goals that go in will be over-analyzed in hockey crazed Montreal.) Giguere did indeed top him, though, stopping 25 of 27 shots, including a late flurry from the Habs in the third period.

Tim Brent, Phil Kessel and Altanta arbitration reject Clarke MacArthur scored Toronto’s three goals while Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern scored for the Canadiens.

Here are some interesting points from the Associated Press recap.

It was a typically tight game between the longtime rivals, who needed overtime to decide five of six meetings last season. That included the opener, in which Montreal tied it late before pulling out a 4-3 win in extra time.

Only six Leafs players who played in that game were on the ice for this one – a sign of the massive overhaul general manager Brian Burke constructed over the last year.

MacArthur, one of the new faces, scored the eventual winner. He made a nice play to beat defenseman Jaroslav Spacek before putting a nice backhander behind Carey Price at 1:36 of the third period.

Hopefully people aren’t too high in Toronto or too low in Montreal, but don’t be surprised. It’s the nature of these puck-obsessed markets, after all.

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    Leafs pass Bruins for third in Atlantic after gutsy win against Columbus

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    It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.

    Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:

    Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
    Bruins: 82 points in 73 games

    This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.

    The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.

    This game was all about William Nylander‘s brilliant start:

    And also Toronto surviving a long penalty kill after that Polak hit:

    Nazem Kadri‘s 30th goal really put the game out of reach, helping Toronto nab a significant victory.

    The Blue Jackets can wallow in this defeat and Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s injury, either, as they turn around to face the Washington Capitals in a big one tomorrow.

    Tortorella was irate after Roman Polak boarded Oliver Bjorkstrand

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    John Tortorella was left enraged after Roman Polak delivered a dangerous boarding hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand, and he probably wasn’t too pleased after the Columbus Blue Jackets failed to make Toronto pay for Polak’s misdeeds.

    Polak received a game misconduct and boarding major for the hit, but the Blue Jackets failed to score on a lengthy power play. Tortorella played to script, as cameras caught him expressing his anger at the situation.

    First, take a look at the hit:

    Next, behold Tortorella’s anger:

    Again, Columbus couldn’t capitalize on its opportunities, so that didn’t make things any better.

    Right now, the Maple Leafs lead the Blue Jackets 3-2. If Toronto ends up winning, this will stand as one of the game’s pivotal moments.

    It’s far from the only exciting moment, however, with these goals and big hits also standing out.

    Video: Josh Ho-Sang’s creativity gives Islanders a shot in the arm

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    Honestly, after 10 games, the question shouldn’t be “can Josh Ho-Sang stick with the Islanders full-time?” Instead, the feeling is … what took so long for him to get this chance?

    For all the grumbling about Ho-Sang sporting number 66, he’s provided serious bursts of brilliance and creativity for the Islanders, whether he’s been supporting or even setting up John Tavares.

    The video above is some really good stuff, as it walks through his confident comments – and undeniable uncertainty – during the night he was drafted, all the way through him getting his chance with the Isles this season. Some of the best stuff comes from Doug Weight, who raves that Ho-Sang is a “five out of five” from an offensive standpoint.

    Leafs’ Nylander puts on show with breakaway goal, assist on Matthews’ 33rd

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    This wouldn’t have been worth a chuckle if not for the correction. (Well, maybe a chuckle at Auston Matthews‘ expense.)

    On the 33rd goal of his brilliant rookie season, Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for Toronto on the power play. Crusty “act like you’ve been there” types might grumble that he actually celebrated before a goal really happened, only to tap it in for real the second time around. The rest of us, again, get a mild chuckle.

    William Nylander‘s pass was nothing to laugh at, however. That one just gets a big thumbs up.

    Hnnngmgghh indeed.

    That goal could end up being key as the Blue Jackets quickly scored to start the second period, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 2-1 on Wednesday.

    Update: OK, so Nylander’s really stealing the show. This is stupendous.